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Major flooding in the Northeast and Midwest; Fiji reels from major cyclone Tomas

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:51 PM GMT on March 16, 2010

The extremely wet and windy Nor'easter that plowed across the northern tier of states has left moderate to major flooding in its wake over both the Midwest and Northeast. In the Northeast, the storm dropped more than five inches of rain in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and moderate to major flooding is occurring in these states. Flooding was particularly severe in Rhode Island on the Pawtuxet River in Cranston, where the river crested a record six feet over flood stage, forcing evacuations. Major flooding was also occurring in New Jersey, where the Passaic River at Little Falls is cresting at five feet over flood stage.

In the Midwest, snow melt and heavy rains have swollen the Red River in North Dakota and Minnesota to near flood stage, and the river is expected to crest two feet above major flood stage by Sunday morning, and one foot above one of the permanent dikes on the river. In Fargo, ND, the Red River is expected to crest Saturday at 38 feet, three feet below the record of 41 feet set last year. Many rivers in Iowa are in flood and expected to crest above major flood stage on Thursday or Friday this week, including the Des Moines River in northern Iowa. In Des Moines, flooding on the Des Moines River is expected to be moderate, but a levee that failed in the floods of 1993 and 2008 is leaking, and residents of the area are evacuating, according to media reports.

Figure 1. Estimated precipitation for the seven day period ending at 8am EDT Monday March 15, 2010. Image credit: NOAA.

Tropical Cyclone Tomas roars through Fiji Islands
Tropical Cyclone Tomas roared through the eastern portion of the Fiji Islands as a major Category 3 storm with 130 mph winds yesterday. Tomas sideswiped the two largest islands in the chain, destroying 50 buildings, causing extensive power outages, and claiming one life. The cyclone made a direct hit on several of the smaller islands to the east of the main islands, and the extent of damage on these islands is unknown, but undoubtedly very heavy.

Tropical Cyclone Ului weakens, may threaten Australia
The first Category 5 tropical cyclone of the year, Tropical Cyclone Uliu, has weakened from its impressive peak as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds to a low-end Category 4 storm with 132 mph winds. Ului is over the open waters of the South Pacific, east of Australia, and is projected to significantly decay as the week progresses, due to high wind shear. Ului may be a threat to the Queensland coast of Australia by the end of the week, but should be at tropical storm strength by then.

Figure 2. Tropical Cyclone Ului (left) and Tropical Cyclone Tomas (right). Over the Solomon Islands, Tropical Cyclone Ului had maximum sustained winds of 130 knots (240 kilometers per hour, 150 miles per hour) and gusts up to 160 knots (300 km/hr, 180 mph). Over Fiji, Tropical Cyclone Tomas had maximum sustained winds of 115 knots (215 km/hr, 132 mph) and gusts up to 140 knots (260 km/hr, 160 mph). The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites captured both storms in multiple passes over the South Pacific on March 15, 2010, local time. The majority of the image is from the morning of March 15 (late March 14, UTC time) as seen by MODIS on the Terra satellite, with the right portion of the image having been acquired earliest. The wedge-shaped area right of center is from Aqua MODIS, and it was taken in the early afternoon of March 15 (local time). Image credit: NASA.

Portlight looks to build permanent shelters in Haiti
On February 26th, torrential rains brought more than five feet (1.5 m) of flood water into the streets in the coastal city of Les Cayes, Haiti, an area unscathed by the massive January 2010 earthquake. Eleven people were killed during this storm, with the rainy season still two months away. This deadly flood serves as a reminder that the people of Haiti are highly vulnerable to disastrous flooding during this year's rainy season. A vast number of the survivors are living in "tent" cities where most of the "tents" are really nothing more than bed sheets draped over ropes and sticks; the potential for a second humanitarian disaster is significant. With this in mind, Portlight.org has been exploring fast, inexpensive methods of providing solid, permanent, safe shelter for survivors of the earthquake. They have found a number of groups looking at using shipping containers for this purpose. Shipping containers are steel-reinforced boxes used for shipping goods overseas. Portlight's on-site coordinator in Haiti, Richard Lumarque, has identified an engineer that has come up with a number of designs for converting these containers into dormitories, offices, medical facilities and individual homes; his plan for a dormitory container is below. Portlight is looking to help with this effort; please visit the Portlight.org web site to learn more and to donate to this worthy cause.

Figure 3. A proposed design for a simple dormitory that can accommodate twelve people, built from a shipping container.

I'll have a new post on Wednesday or Thursday.

Jeff Masters
2010 NorEaster Flood in Manville, NJ
Flooded bridge
Flooded bridge
Small bridge in Haddonfield flooded at Cooper River along Kings Highway on 3/13/10
Rockaway River Flooding
Rockaway River Flooding
Lower Berkshire Valley Rd.


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.